Country Shopping with an Upscale Twist in Duncans Mills
It’s shopping pop quiz time: True or false: The bigger the city, the better the shopping?
Your answer should determine your reaction when I tell you some of Sonoma County’s best shopping is in the village of Duncans Mills, population 85.
No, I haven’t lost it, nor have my tastes suddenly skewed a little Laura Ingalls-Wilder. The truth is this lovely hamlet, best known for redwood and river views, quaint buildings, and blink-and-you’ll-pass-it square footage, is also a hidden gem for shoppers.
Cruise down Highway 116 and you’ll see the shops at Duncans Mills bunched together off the side of the road between Guerneville and the Pacific Ocean. There are about a dozen unique shops in town, all well worth a visit. Here’s a sampler to get you started.
Once upon a time, Pig Alley was just what its name suggests: A muddy place local pigs liked to come muck around. Today, it’s a considerably prettier scene. Owner Cathy Goebel stocks the place with eclectic, hand-crafted goods from the U.S. and abroad. Jewelry, candles, ladies’ sweaters, handbags, wall art, and everything from wooden watches to wind-chimes to wallets — Pig Alley’s got a little something for everyone.
This is the only of Duncans Mills’ several antique shops operated by a human and his canine. Stop into the little cubby of a store to meet proprietor Jim Raidl and his bichon pup Davy Jones, and to cherry-pick Raidl’s formidable collection of the old, the rare, and the beautiful. Raidl lived for years in a San Francisco Victorian decorated to the hilt with antiques (and featured in various design publications). His decision to downsize his enormous personal collection has made for a treasure trove in Duncans Mills.
“When you buy antiques, someone’s loved them before,” Raidl said. “You’ve enjoyed their energy, and now it’s someone else’s turn. We don’t own these things — we’re just temporary caretakers.”
You may feel as if you’ve stumbled down the rabbit hole on a trip to Mr. Trombly’s Tea. This charming shop has everything you could possibly need for a tea party — mad or otherwise. Pick up dainty cups and saucers, table linens, kettles, antique teapots, porcelain creamers, scone mixes, and any of 150 varieties of loose tea, many of which are blended by owner Brian Trombly. If you’ve always wanted to sip “root beer float” tea from a vintage teapot shaped like Christopher Columbus, this is the place. Of course, there’s English breakfast and floral-printed china for the traditional set, too.
There’s a surprise inside Studio Nouveau. Inside the one-room cottage smack in the middle of the Duncans Mills you’ll find a huge collection of “liquid metal” jewelry from designer Sergio Gutierrez. The designer’s jewelry has a huge following (including celebrities and TV characters), but finding more than a few pieces for sale at brick-and-mortar stores can be tough. Luckily, Studio Nouveau offers wide selection.
“A lot of people are huge fans of his and aren’t aware of the collection we have,” said store employee Linda Beyries. “They walk in here and suddenly they say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe you exist!’”
Bags made from industrial fishing nets in Cambodia. Baskets hand woven in Namibia. Silk scarves from Thailand, Guatemalan quilts, and Indian fabric-printing blocks — Worldly Goods certainly lives up to its name, bringing a whole lot of international flair to this far-flung town.
Exotic flowers and old-time finds might not sound like they go together, but Lisa Switzer pulls it off gorgeously at her combination florist-antique shop. Switzer piles arrangements of Jenner-grown, South-Africa-native blooms on top of antique furniture, sets creative bouquets of local flora in vintage suitcases, and welcomes guests out front with a secret garden of live, coastal-weather-ready plants grown just down the road.
With its extensive collection of early California paintings, Christopher Queen Galleries gives visitors a unique glimpse of life in the west in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Landscapes by contemporary artists highlight the state’s natural beauty, and frequent special exhibitions (like the current “Artists of the Bohemian Club” show) give visitors a reason to come back again and again. Owner Nancy Ferreira displays all works salon-style, giving the large gallery the intimate feel of an art collector’s home.
Connected to Christopher Queen and run by Ferreira’s sister Cristina, Thistledown offers an actual rainbow of antiques arranged largely by color. The idea behind the collection is easy to sum up, Cristina said.
“My sister and I go shopping all over the countryside, find lovely things, and bring them back here.”